Every Sunday, I sit in a cushioned pew in a plain, windowless wooden building. There is no incense, no organ music, no choir. The lights are dim, and the babies wail, and the entire congregation sings hymns in four-part harmony. We pass gold plates, and I take slivers of cracker and gulps of grape juice.
It is far from perfect, but it is what I know.
A few weeks ago, I read a blog post by Sarah Bessey, and although I remember almost nothing about the post itself, I do remember this question she asks off-handedly somewhere in the middle.
"Can we ever really leave our Mother Church?"
It's a question I've thought a lot about off and on these past couple of months as we've struggled with goodbyes and growing pains at a church that has been my home for 27 years. It's a question I've shoved to the back of my mind most days this summer, consumed instead with thoughts about the business, about the practical, day-to-day tasks I've simply had to get done.
But when my mind wanders, I think about that question, and I think about my answer. And I guess, the truth is, I don't really have one -- at least not one I'm comfortable sharing.
Perhaps, though, the answer can be found in the fact that despite all the hurts and frustrations and struggles, we are still there, every Sunday, in that same cushioned pew, praying for guidance and singing with hope.
We were in Alabama this past weekend, gathered together with a side of the family we only see once a year, on Labor Day, like clockwork. It's a reunion of sorts, aunts and uncles and cousins and babies, a matriarch growing frail and fragile, but still, somehow, strong.
And each year, like clockwork, we host our own church service, singing in the living room or down by the water, offering up prayers and praises to a God we serve together.
It would be foreign and uncomfortable to some, I know. But to me? It's just how it's always been done.
So on Sunday, my uncle guided us through Scripture. My father led us in song. And my brother, a bearded, dirty theologian, walked us through the Eucharist.
I come from a church where the Eucharist -- the Lord's Supper -- is simple and somber. It is quick, and though meaningful, it leaves me longing for more: more cracker, more grape juice, more joy, more time.
On Sunday, I think I got a glimmer of what this sacred meal is really all about.
We 15 (plus two babies) gathered around the table. We broke unleavened bread in the middle of our supper, drank wine before dessert. We shared our pains and hopes, heard about hardships and rejoiced over good news.
I tore a tortilla in half and gave part of it to my husband, reminding him: This is Christ's body, broken for you. I spoke the promise out loud, and in doing so, realized the fullness of the sacrament. I was reminded of our wedding vows, of our promise to be there for each other, to sacrifice for each other.
The bread is Christ's vow, spoken for me.
The wine is Christ's promise, given to me.
And to get to hear those precious words spoken aloud between family and friends?
I'll go to church this Sunday, and the Lord's supper I take won't look much like that. I think that's okay. I think God honors the promises we speak silently to ourselves. I think He honors the somber and the awe-filled and the quiet. I think He loves our traditions, even when they are imperfect, even when they are maybe less than what they could be.
But I also think He so loves the giggles, and the joys, and the words spoken out loud. I think He loved our gathering Sunday, over barbecue and hashbrowns and wine. I think He loved watching our matriarch pass the plate in a way she never had before. I think He loved watching my bearded brother, the baby of our family, find his place at the table. I think He loved our remembrances and our recollections, our laughter and our tears.
I think He treasures the vows just like we do.
Sunday, it felt like I was saying them back to Him.